NEW YORK — So much had to go horribly wrong for the New York Yankees and uncannily right for the Boston Red Sox for Game 3 of the American League Division Series to wind its way to one final, surreal moment late Monday night in a mostly empty Yankee Stadium: Austin Romine, the Yankees’ backup catcher, on the mound facing Brock Holt, the Red Sox’s reserve infielder, in the ninth inning of a massive blowout, with history riding on both sides of the matchup.
Romine had just become the second position player in history to pitch in a postseason game, while Holt was a home run shy of becoming the first batter in history to hit for a postseason cycle.
“I told everyone [in the dugout], ‘Get me up. I need a home run for the cycle,’” Holt said of the buildup to his final at-bat. “I was going to try to hit a home run, but I figured I’d ground out to first.”
Sure enough, Romine grooved a 79-mph pitch — identified graciously as a “slider” on MLB Gameday — and Holt pounced on it, hooking it down the right-field line, just inside the pole, for a two-run homer that accounted for the final runs in the Red Sox’s staggering 16-1 victory, which put them ahead, two games to one, in the best-of-five series. The Red Sox can clinch a berth in the AL Championship Series with another win Tuesday night in Game 4.
“I round the bases,” Holt said, “and seeing everyone go nuts in the dugout was a pretty cool moment for me. It’s something I’ll remember for a long, long time.”
In the aftermath of the largest postseason loss in Yankees history — a history that includes 54 Octobers and 396 playoff games — plenty of people were wondering:
— Did Yankees Manager Aaron Boone have a satisfactory explanation for leaving starting pitcher Luis Severino in a pivotal game long enough to be charged with six earned runs, essentially putting the game out of reach in the fourth inning? (He didn’t.)
“Just hoping he could get something started to get through the bottom of the lineup there,” Boone explained of the rationale. ” … It just snowballed on him.”
— Did Severino, as the TBS broadcast reported, show up late to the field and leave himself only 10 minutes to warm up in the bullpen? (He said he hadn’t, and that he went through his normal pregame routine Monday night.)
“I go 20 minutes before the game. I play catch. And then I always get on the mound with 10 or eight minutes before the game,” Severino said. “Whatever these guys say, I don’t know where it comes from.”
— What would first-base umpire Angel Hernandez have to say for himself after not one, not two, not three, but four of his safe/out calls were challenged Monday night, and not one, not two, but three of them were overturned following replay reviews? (We’ll never now, because Hernandez declined an interview request from a pool reporter.)
But at least in Boston, they were also toasting to Brock Wyatt Holt, a valued utility man who made starts at six different positions in 2018, but who has also missed large chunks of time over the past couple of years to vertigo and concussions, which at times got so bad he was unsure if he’d ever play again.
“It’s part of my story now,” Holt said of his health history. “I feel like I’m a good player when healthy and given an opportunity. So you try to stay ready.”
Holt hadn’t played in the first two games of the series, and wasn’t expecting to start in Game 3, given his career 1-for-15 performance against Severino. So when Red Sox Manager Alex Cora texted him the night before that he would be getting the start in place of the struggling veteran Ian Kinsler, Holt texted back, “Are you sure?”
But Cora was sure, and Holt was ready for his chance. He singled off Severino to lead off the fourth inning — the pivotal frame that would see the Red Sox send 11 batters to the plate, score seven runs and lead to inevitable and painful scrutiny of Boone’s pitching choices — then smashed a two-run triple off reliever Chad Green later the same inning. In the eighth, facing lefty Stephen Tarpley, he hit an RBI double, putting himself a homer shy of history.
When he stepped in to face Romine, Holt said he was specifically trying — for the first time he could recall in his career — to hit a home run. “I scooted up in the box a little bit,” he said. “I was going to be swinging at anything.”
On the other side of the equation, Romine had even less expectation of pitching in Game 3 than Holt did of starting it. But by the late stages of the blowout loss, with the Yankees wanting to stay away from their top relievers — Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton, David Robertson and Dellin Betances — to save them for Tuesday night’s Game 4, Boone sent bench coach Josh Bard to ask Romine if he could pitch.
“I’ll sure as hell try,” replied Romine, who had last pitched at El Toro (Calif.) High School some 11 years earlier.
Within moments, Romine was on the mound for the first time as a professional, thus becoming the first position player since Kansas City’s Cliff Pennington in the 2015 ALDS to pitch in a postseason game. He said he threw all fastballs, despite what the pitch-recognition systems were calling them, the fastest of which hit 90 mph and the slowest of them at 68.
“Fastball,” catcher Gary Sanchez said when asked what pitches Romine was throwing, “and slower fastball.”
By the end of a remarkably efficient, 18-pitch inning, at the end of an ugly, surreal night, Romine had succeeded in sparing the Yankees’ bullpen from any more trauma. But a monumental task awaits the Yankees on Tuesday night: rescuing their 100-win season from the brink.
“As awful a night as it was for us, we’ve got to turn the page,” Boone said. “Tomorrow’s obviously do or die.”
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